GENTLE PEOPLE

Circa:  1967
Home town:  Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia)
Members:

  • Graham Boyle – Lead vocals & rhythm guitar
  • Dave Wendon – Lead guitar, vocals & harmonies
  • Charlie Johnson – Bass, vocals & harmonies
  • Chris Charalambides – Drums & harmonies

Graham Boyle, who is a central figure in the GENTLE PEOPLE’S story, comes from a strong musical background.  His mother, Margaret Platt, was a well known singer during the Second World War.  In the military’s Entertainment Corps she performed with some notable figures, including Syd James, later to become famous due to his roles in the “Carry On” films.  Margaret’s crew were known as the Crazy Gang.  When Graham was about 15, he went to see his mother sing.  It was at this gig that the band’s drummer handed Graham the maracas to shake.  Within hours he was telling his friends that he as a drummer!  The year was 1962.

It wasn’t long before school friends were starting to learn to play guitar and it was decided to form a band.  The band’s members at the first practice were:

  • Nicky Kontu
  • Derrick Fenwick
  • Chris Charalambides – Vocals
  • Graham Boyle – the drummer without drums!

It was quickly realised that Graham was terrible on the drums and, Chris, was as bad on vocals!  They duly swopped roles which immediately improved their sound and synergy.  Graham was shown his first four chords by Chris, launching his career as a rhythm guitarist.  The band soon played their first gig and they were on their way, so to speak.  In due course Graham Boyle went on to play with various local bands, including the BLUE JAYS (complete with blue larme jackets!), the RAMBLERS and the WANDERERS.

At the age of 19, Graham Boyle journeyed to Durban to look for work in the trade.  It was intended that he stay with an uncle and aunt, however, whist wandering about the Durban beach front he walked into the Palmerston Hotel where the Derek Warron Sound were playing.  During the course of the gig Graham asked the band if he could sing a song with them.  It was after this performance that he was invited to attend band additions that Saturday.  He duly did this and was taken on as a vocalist/guitarist.   Terry Bee was on keyboards and Johnny Babosa the drums.  He remained with the band at this residency for almost a year.

Whilst in Durban, Graham also played with a band called the UNDERTAKERS at the Macabre at the Butterworth Hotel.  The other members of this group were Brian Jones, Roy Schallenberg and Brian Benton.

On the back of his experiences in Durban and recognising the opportunities that exist, Graham Boyle returned to Kitwe in 1967 with the intention of forming a band and returning to Durban.   After a short period of time he met Dave Weldon who was from the United Kingdom but was living and working in the town.  Having struck up a friendship they formed a band, the first iteration of the GENTLE PEOPLE.  The band’s name was inspired by Scott McKenzie’s hit song, If You’re Going To San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair), in which one line refers to “….you’ll meet some gentle people there”.  The band quickly became popular with their repertoire of modern, new, songs from the United Kingdom, as well as the make-up of the band with four vocalists and excellent harmonies.  They played the local circuit, church halls, sports clubs and the mine clubs.

About a year later, in 1968, Dave Wendon had difficulties with the limitations attached to his work permit and duly left the band.   During this period there were changes in the line-up as Dave Cree came in on lead guitar and vocals and Ray Wood, a school friend, was brought in on keyboards.  An introduction to the parents of a young female cabaret singer from the United Kingdom led to Denise Day joining the group on vocals.  With a strong and vivacious personality, Denise immediately added to the band’s talents and enhanced their appeal.  Work pressure, however, was starting to tell on Chris Charalambides and he vacated his position whereupon Geoff Kearns, another school friend, took over the position of drummer.

The decision was then taken to travel to South Africa to gig and start to establish themselves on the local circuit.  At this stage Chris Reynolds decided that he was not in a position to make this move and stepped down.  Graham Boyle contacted Charlie Johnson, a school friend who he played with in the WANDERERS and offered him a place in the line-up.  Johnson was already in South Africa and met the band when they arrived in Johannesburg, unemployed and penniless.  Graham’s grandmother initially accommodated the band although, with a premium on space, the floor was the bed!

The band started to scout around for agents and bookings, making initial contact with an individual called Red Mitchell, a Canadian who was active on the local scene.  Mitchell landed the band a three month residency at the Lonsdale Hotel’s Bull Ring venue n Durban.  Boyle’s granny lent them the petrol money to get to Durban!  The band, at this stage, comprised the following members:

  • Denise Day – Vocals
  • Dave Cree – Lead vocals
  • Graham Boyle – Vocals & rhythm guitar
  • Charlie Johnston – Bass
  • Ray Wood – Keyboards
  • Geoff Kearns – Drums & vocals

When this contract ended, Geoff Kearns departed and relocated to Cape Town.  In order to find a replacement, Graham Boyle contacted Brian Benton (Strydom) who had played with him at the Palmerston Hotel on his previous visit.  Brian agreed to join the band on drums and vocals and the band duly landed a gig at the renowned Smugglers Inn in Point Road.  At this stage, Denise Day decided to take her leave and did not appear at the Smugglers Inn.  With “Go Go Girls” a regular feature of the club’s entertainment the band were on a roll.

During the course of their nine month residency at the Inn, Charlie Johnston left to join the South African Air Force band.  The band once again resorted to one of thee fellow countrymen, approaching Kevin Mason in Zambia.  Mason agreed to join them on bass and vocals and travelled to South Africa to link up.

In 1969 the band made contact with a well known agent and promoter, Maurice Fresco, who arranged for a club owner from Johannesburg to pay a visit and listen to the band.  In due course, Uppie Olivier, the large Jewish owner of Jo’burg’s Club Tomorrow arrived and took a seat in the front row between the band and the dance floor.

The evening, however, was quickly derailed when a fight broke out in the audience between rival England and Germany football supporters.  Germany had just won the soccer World Cup against England and, with both a German and an English ship berthed in Durban harbour, the potential for conflict between passionate supporters was very real…and it exploded that night at the club!  Bouncers stepped in before there was a clear winner although, according to the band’s members, the smaller Englshman seemed to be getting an advantage very his larger German rival.

The band, convinced that their “audition” with Matice Fresco had been totally ruined, went to speak to him in the break, apologising profusely for the brawl.  Fresco, to their surprise, hardly batting an eyelid, said he’d loved the cabaret and duly signed them for a year at Club Tomorrow!

During their time at Club Tomorrow, Uppie Olivier contacted Dan Hill and Matt Mann who owned RPM Records and suggested that they sign up and record “my boys”.  Hill and Mann duly acted on this “advice” and the band found themselves in the recording studio contributing to a compilation album.  During this period they also recorded Ran, Rain, Rain as a break-out seven single in 1971.  This was produced by Chris Kritzinger who hailed from Ndola in Zambia.  The line up of the band which recorded Rain, Rain, Rain was:

  • Graham Boyle – Lead vocals & harmonies
  • Dave Cree – Lead guitar & harmonies
  • Kevin Mason – Bass & harmonies
  • Ray Wood – Keyboards & harmonies
  • Brian Benton (Strydom) – Drums & harmonies
  • Wendy Cree – who stomped rhythmically with her foot on and old door…true story!

The band also recorded a selection of other songs – Nothings, Merlie, Love Is Blind and I Sit & Watch.  Some of these tunes went onto the pending Gentle People long playing record.

In the interim, Uppie Olivier had bought Bretts Night Club in Salisbury, Rhodesia, and duly signed the band up to play there.  This period saw more band departures, including Dave Cree who was marrying Wendy.  Brian Benton also married and left the band.  He was replaced for a short while by Rod Clark.  When Clark left, Neil Fox came in on the drums, Rusty Northcoat on Bass  and Kevin Mason moved onto lead.

Meanwhile, Rain, Rain, Rain had entered the South African charts and was climbing well and the record company, RPM, flew Graham Boyle to South Africa to record a few more singles.  They could fly the entire band back to South Africa so session musicians were used for these recordings.  A single called It’s Summertime was amongst them with Boyle on lead vocals and harmonies and Julian Laxton on lead guitar.  Upon being released, It’s Summertime also entered the charts.

With the Bretts contract ending, the band returned to Club Tomorrow in Johannesburg where work on a Gentle People album continued.  The band line-up was now:

  • Graham Boyle – Vocals, harmonies and flute
  • Kevin Mason – Lead guitar and harmonies
  • Rusty Northcoat – Bass and harmonies
  • Ray Wood – Keyboards
  • Neil Fox – Drums and harmonies

Just prior to the album’s release, Neil Fox and Rusty Northcoat decided to move on and were replaced by Nippy Cripwell on bass and Kevin Kruger on drums. Although Cripwell and Kruger had not played on the album, the record company insisted that their photographs appear on the album cover as they wished to pro mote the band in its current composition.  As a result, Cripwell and Northcoat do not appear on the album sleeve.

Shortly after this, tensions started to rise between band members leading to the group’s demise.  Graham Boyle then joined Peter Hubner from SOUNDS OF BRASS and IMPI, along with Gerald Stockton. Other members of the band – CARAVAN LION – were Mike Campbell, Malcolm Poselthwaite (from the SQUARE SET) and Jacque de Villiers.  In due course it was decided to rename the band the GENTLE PEOPLE and the group was hired to play on the Windsor Castle on its cruises to the United Kingdom and Spain where they also played at the USA’s Submarine base, as well as Madrid.   The band then returned to South Africa where they supported Rolf Harris on his national tour.